Hawkeyes Second After First Day of Big Ten Tournament
By KJ Pilcher, Reporter
WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana – Derek St. John was not content with two overtime wins.
Avenging a loss did not satisfy Montell Marion.
Bobby Telford focused on the challenge ahead and not the ones he had just conquered.
The University of Iowa wrestling team accomplished plenty Saturday, but you get the sense that it still is not enough. The Hawkeyes had six finalists and were in second place after the first day of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Purdue's Mackey Arena. Iowa is locked into a heated three-way race for the team title with 112 ½ points, trailing first-place Minnesota by 4 ½ and leading defending champion Penn State by 1 ½.
The Hawkeyes advanced a tournament high six wrestlers into Sunday's championship matches, and the focus already shifted to the next task, which is finishing what they started.
"We have to build on it and keep going," Iowa Coach Tom Brands said, "We have six in the finals, and we've got to win championships now."
They forced their way into the finals by a mixture of results. Matt McDonough survived a 125-pound semifinal battle for a one-point win. Tony Ramos broke open a match to continue his domination over B.J. Futrell of Illinois at 133. Marion (141) and 157-pounder St. John earned overtime wins. Freshman Mike Evans (165) and heavyweight Bobby Telford controlled their matches for strong victories.
They started showing the mentality that McDonough said they have been trying to develop all season and need for the postseason.
"Guys are coming out ready to go," McDonough said. "Guys want Big ten championships. They want wins. They want tough, hard wrestling. I don't see too many guys taking a backseat today for the Iowa team."
St. John capped a stretch of 13 straight winners bracket wins, starting with the Hawkeyes' 8-0 mark in the quarterfinals. He scored a takedown with 33 seconds remaining in overtime to defeated Penn State's second-seeded Dylan Alton, 3-1, in the semifinals.
"I don't know how satisfied I am with them," said St. John, the sixth seed who beat No. 3 James Green of Nebraska in overtime to face Alton. "There's nothing good about an overtime win, but they're wins to say the least."
St. John has missed considerable time due to a knee injury, but appeared to have as much, if not more, stamina when he shot in and finished the winning takedown.
"You feel the sense of people getting tired and you pick it up," St. John said. "It doesn't matter if you get tired or not."
St. John, who has reached the finals two times in as many years, wrestled with his knee taped up. He has wins over two formidable opponents and has always been described as tough by Brands.
"He's not to be denied in his own head," Brands said. "That's the difference between him and other guys."
Is it guts or superior conditioning that helped him and Marion win sudden-victory contests and Ramos to distance himself the last half of his match?
"It's probably both," St. John said. "You get in tough situations you have to grit your teeth and get through it. Put an exclamation point on the wins."
McDonough scored a takedown in the third period and added a late escape for a 4-3 win over Illinois' Jesse Delgado, advancing to the Big Ten finals for the third year.
Delgado continually reached McDonough's legs, causing a few scrambles. Finally, he capitalized on countering Delgado.
"I felt comfortable in there," McDonough said. "It's not where I want to be, but you have to be able to wrestle from any position. Fortunately, I started getting my legs back and that's where I got that go-behind."
Wrestlers have tried to slow the pace with McDonough. He said he has to keep working on creating his own opportunities to be offensive.
"He's a tough opponent," said McDonough. "He scraps hard, but there's always room to widen the gap and that's what I have to work to do, especially tomorrow."
McDonough will look for his 23rd straight win against No. 2 Zach Sanders of Minnesota in the finals.
Ramos and Marion followed by securing their first finals berth.
Marion's match played out similarly to St. John's. He exchanged escapes with Ohio State's Hunter Stieber, and then scored a takedown with 29 seconds left in sudden-victory period for the win after dropping conference semifinals the last two seasons.
He first mentioned he was more disappointed in not scoring sooner than being happy with reaching his the Big Ten finals.
"I didn't really like it," Marion said. "My pace could have been a lot higher."
Marion increased the intensity in the extra period. He eliminated strategy by making it more of a fight, focusing on his moves and not worrying about Stieber's.
"I think toward the end, I definitely put more pressure on him," Marion said. "I made it turn into a scrap instead of a chess game."
Marion gets another crack at NCAA champion Kellen Russell of Michigan. He lost two heartbreakers to Russell last year in overtime, including a tiebreaker decision in the NCAA semifinals.
"It's not him, it's me," Marion said. "I had him dead to rights twice. That's irrelevant at this point. It's time to put a stamp on it at the end of the match."
Ramos broke open a tight match, scoring the final six points in a 6-1 win over Futrell. It was his fourth win over Futrell and his fifth straight against him. His relentless attack paid dividends.
"He was playing the edges the whole time and everyone saw it, the ref knew it and he didn't want to call it," Ramos said. "I just have to finish those, and there is still room for improvement."
Ramos wore Futrell down. The Hawkeye sophomore felt his opponent begin to fold after he took his first lead.
"The first takedown," Ramos said. "He put his head on the mat. You saw his explosion right away in the second period. There was no more of that. It was out. He was done."
Now, Ramos has a shot at avenging his worst loss of the year to Ohio State's Logan Stieber, who won the first matchup, 7-0.
"It's good, exciting," Ramos said. "Redemption. I can't wait for tomorrow night."
And like St. John, Telford also beat a Penn State foe in the semifinals. The sixth-seeded freshman blanked No. 2 Cameron Wade, 5-0, following a solid 6-4 victory over No. 3 Ben Apland of Michigan to reach the semifinals.
Telford had his sights set on a finals match against Minnesota's Tony Nelson, who lost to the Hawkeyes' backup and reigning Big Ten champ Blake Rasing in last year's championship bout.
"I've got one more jump to do," said Telford, who beat out Rasing. "That's what I'm focused on right now."
Telford scored two reversals, neutralizing Wade's strength on top and then riding him for over a minute for an additional point.
"It's just a wrestling position," Telford said. "People say he's calm riding the legs like that. I was just wrestling the position."
Seeds don't mean much to Telford. He didn't embrace the idea that he scored two upsets Saturday.
"Upset is who you guys think is the best guy out there," Telford said. "It's not really an upset. It's just wrestling. Twelve guys at one weight class."
Evans was dominant, scoring a 17-2 technical fall over Nebraska's third-seeded Robert Kokesh. Evans will face Penn State's top-ranked and unbeaten David Taylor, who is one of three Nittany Lions finalists.
Ethen Lofthouse (174) and Grant Gambrall (184) dropped key semifinal matches against Goolden Gophers, who have five in the finals.
Lofthouse gave up a late reversal and a takedown in overtime against Logan Storley. Gambrall was edged by top-seeded Kevin Steinhaus.
"Lots of wins. Not all of them though," Brands said. "That's a big match at 174. That's what sticks in my mind.
"A big match at 165, too. A big match at 157," Brands said. "So, both ways I guess."
Consolation matches begin at noon with the finals 2 p.m. (Iowa time).